Demonstrations were held in major Australian cities, including Sydney and Melbourne, on Sunday, which is officially Australia’s national day, marking the arrival of the first British settlers in 1788 and the onset of the colonial oppression of Aboriginal people.
Both indigenous and non-indigenous people attended the rallies, arguing that the rights of those who have owned the land for millennia have been violated in modern Australia.
With many wearing t-shirts featuring the Aboriginal flag, the protesters held signs that read, “Not happy Jan 26,” and “colonialism cooked this country.”
Divisions have deepened in recent years as calls have increased for the Australian government to change the date of the country’s national day.
Three local councils in Victoria State voted in 2017 to no longer recognize January 26 as Australia Day.
Australian government officials have, however, long resisted calls to change the date.
Aboriginals, whose cultures stretch back tens of thousands of years before the British arrived, remain the most disadvantaged Australians, with higher rates of poverty, ill health, and imprisonment than any other community in the country.
They were believed to have numbered around one million at the time of British settlement, but currently account for about three percent of the total national population of 24 million.
Protesters angered by bushfire crisis
Also on Sunday, the protesters expressed their outrage at the government’s handling of the recent bushfires that have burned massive areas and killed an estimated one billion animals.
The deadly bushfires, which began nearly three months ago, have caused the deaths of at least 28 people and numerous animals and livestock.
Australia’s PM admits partial guilt in bushfire responseAustralia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison admits partial responsibility in inadequately responding to the bushfires scorching land and killing people and wildlife across the country for months.
The bushfires, which have also razed about 2,000 homes, are still raging across millions of acres of land.
The World Wildlife Fund in Australia estimates that as many as 1.25 billion animals may have been killed directly or indirectly from fires fueled by drought in the country’s hottest and driest year on record.
Bushfires are common in Australia’s hot, dry summers, but the ferocity and early arrival of the fires in the southern hemisphere this year is unprecedented, with experts saying climate change has played a big role in the country’s disaster.